Happy Sunday, Story366! I hope you’ve had a great weekend. I certainly have, as I’ve gotten a lot family time in, did some writing, and best of all, I finished my grading for the semester. Summer! Yay! As soon as I finish this post, I get to watch tonight’s Game of Thrones, which I’ve kind of become obsessive about. Tomorrow? Who knows. The first day of summer means endless possibilities, but I think I should write a novel and lose forty pounds, and then if there’s time before lunch, maybe paint the house and master the stock market. First day of summer!
Tonight’s story comes from the brand-new collection by Becky Hagenston, Scavengers, her third, released by the University of Alaska Press as the 2015 Permafrost Book Prize, the very first one of its kind. Kudos to the folks at Permafrost for adding this prize, as well as one in poetry and nonfiction, for giving three authors a year the chance to have their book published. Moon City Press is starting the third year of the same mission, so of course I think that’s awesome.
I’ve been a fan of Becky’s work for a while, ever since I read a story of hers in the 1996 O. Henry Awards (a feat she matched just this past year). I enjoyed her first two books and was happy to publish a couple of stories of hers, “Anthony” in Mid-American Review and “Puppet Town”—present in Scavengers—in Moon City Review. After reading more of Scavengers today, I think she’s quickly becoming one of my favorite story writers.
I read a few stories (on top of “Puppet Town”) from Scavengers, and am writing about the title story, “Scavengers,” as I like it a whole lot and think it really represents what Hagenston does as much as any other selection. “Scavengers” is a story about Margaret, a woman who is looking for a better life, though might not be going about it in the best of ways. The story starts out with Margaret on a Wheel-of-Fortune-like game show, and during the meet-the-contestants part, Margaret is supposed to take the cue from the host, who reads on her bio that she’s from Mississippi (Hagentston teaches at Mississippi State, by the way) and happily married; because Margaret is planning on winning a lot of money on the show and using it to leave her husband, she takes the opportunity to blurt out, “No … Everything I win is mine!”
As it turns out, Margaret doesn’t win—a bug-collecting woman from Kansas City named Amanda wins—so Margaret has to go back to Mississippi and live with her husband Donny, who is a dental hygienist and awfully patient with Margaret’s lack of job and on-TV declaration that she’s leaving him. Margaret will not be deterred, though, and puts her efforts into finding a reality show to get famous on. At 38, she also wants a baby, but isn’t particularly sure if Donny is going to be involved.
While all this is going on, a young woman named Delores starts knocking on Margaret’s door, claiming to be on a scavenger hunt. First, she wants some red mittens. The next day, she wants a postcard sent from Europe. Another day, a whole list of things. At the same time, Amanda from the game show drops in, needing a place to stay (Margaret is addicted to social media, by the way) and Margaret’s mother, via the phone, has a lot of advice. So, within a few pages, Hagenston has Margaret juggling a whole lot, while at the same time, she adds little details and eccentricities to her character. Sounds like a formula for outstanding writing. And it is.
All of these threads resolve themselves eventually, but I won’t reveal how. Like a lot of Hagenston’s stories, I was surprised by what happened, but not surprised that it involves the supernatural (“Anthony” is about a ghost), or that I laughed out loud at a lot of the lines, the details, the situations that Hagenston builds. “Scavengers” is a tremendous story, one that’s a lot of fun and led me to read more, all of which are equally as satisfying.
One other thing to note: It’s curious how different Hagenston’s story in this year’s O. Henry’s Awards—“The Upside-Down World”—is from everything else I’ve read by her. If you run across that story, know that it’s got a completely different tone and voice, even feel, than the work I’ve read in this book, in previous books. Not sure what I’m saying here, other than Hagenston’s got some eclectic skills. I suggest you read it all.
So, Game of Thrones awaits, as does summer. “Scavengers” from Scavengers by Becky Hagenston is a helluva way to kick off the season.